ADINKRA - Cultural Symbols of the Asante people Origin The Adinkra symbols are believed to have their origin

from Gyaman, a former kingdom in today’s Côte D’Ivoire. According to an Asante (Ghana) legend Adinkra was the name of a king of the Gyaman (Nana kofi Adinkra). Adinkra was defeated and captured in a battle by the Asantes for having copied the “Golden Stool”, which represents for them absolute power and tribal cohesion. He was finally killed and his territory annexed to the kingdom of Asante. The tradition had it that Nana Adinkra wore patterned cloth, which was interpreted as a way of expressing his sorrow on being taken to Kumasi the capital of Asante. The Asante people around the 19th century then took to painting of traditional symbols of the Gyamans onto cloth, a tradition that was well practiced by the latter.

Adinkra also means ‘goodbye’ or ‘farewell’ in Twi the language of the Akan ethnic group of which Asante is a part. It has therefore been the tradition of the Akan especially the Asante to wear cloths decorated with Adinkra symbols on important occasions especially at funerals of family relations and friends. This is to signify their sorrow and to bid farewell to the deceased. Today, the Adinkra cloth is not exclusively worn by the Asante people. It is worn by other ethnic groups in Ghana on a variety of social gatherings and festive occasions

Symbolism/Significance The Adinkra symbols express various themes that relate to the history, beliefs and philosophy of the Asante. They mostly have rich proverbial meaning since proverbs play an important role in the Asante culture. The use of Proverbs is considered as a mark of wisdom. Other Adinkra symbols depict historical events, human behaviour and attitudes, animal behaviour, plant life forms and shapes of objects.


In fact, the Adinkra symbols continue to change as new influences impact on Ghanaian culture as some of the symbols now record specific technological developments.

The Adinkra cloth

The Adinkra cloth is stamped or printed with Adinkra symbols. one of the few examples of traditional cloths in Africa.

It is

The Adinkra cloth was hitherto the preserve of the royalty and spiritual leaders of the Asantes. They wore it during very important sacred ceremonies. Today the Adinkra cloth is used for a wide range of social activities such as festivals, marriage, and naming ceremonies among others. TYPES: The 3 most important funerary Adinkra are the dark – brown (kuntunkuni) the brick – red (kobene) and the black (brisi). There are however, other forms of which cannot be properly called mourning cloth. Their bright and light backgrounds classify them as


Kwasiada Adinkra or Sunday Adinkra meaning fancy cloths which cannot be suitable for funerary contents but appropriate for most festive occasions or even daily wear. The 3 . which involves the use of wooden or metal stamps and the screenprinting. Other uses of the Adinkra symbols Adinkra symbols can be described as small. The Adinkra cloth was originally printed from hand carverd stamps from calabash or gourd (apakyiwa). Other artisans/crafts men such as sculptors. The bark and roots are soaked in water for days to soften. Some corporate institutions in Ghana now use the Adinkra symbols as their institutional Symbol or Logo. They use two traditional printing methods. The dye or ink (adinkra aduru) for printing is derived from the bark of the Badie and the roots of the kuntunkuni trees. They are then pounded to increase the softening process. Adinkra Printing The Asante people have developed their unique art of adinkra printing. carpenters. Designers in modern times use Adinkra symbols in creating and decorating other accessories than cloth. the block-stamp technique. and architects also use the symbols to design their products. symbolic pictures or motives used to decorate colourful patterned cloth by fashion designers in Ghana.

Badie bark is boiled with iron scraps. The cloth is normally dyed in either red or black. The Cloth is dipped and soaked in the solution. When the colour (deep brown) emerges from the pulp it is sieved and engraved onto a piece of calabash or pot. The kuntunkuni roots are also boiled into a dark solution to dye the cloth black. 4 . For the red Adinkra cloth. The Stamps The various stamps carved from the calabash are tinted with dye and pressed in sequence onto plain cotton cloth. Today raised platforms with sack covering act as the printing table. It has to be dried several times before it turns completely black. pegged on the ground. a chemical called Sudi is used instead of the kuntunkuni root.

The red colour is normally associated with blood and death. In contrast to the above is the dark and dull colours of black.In recent times imported cloth is used as the background of the cloth. It is popularly acknowledged as the “Home of Adinkra” AESTHETIC VALUE The several bright colours of red. playing of “owari” and “dame” (traditional games and other exciting social and religious activities. Sundays are normally characterized by drumming and dancing. The quality of the cloth also shows the status of the one wearing it. The original Adinkra cloth is not meant to be washed since it faded easily as a result of the natural ink used without any chemical additives. Ntonso. a town in the Ashanti Region is noted for Adinkra cloth production. That is why during funerals Kobene in particular is worn by the closest relatives to show how aggrieved they were and the others appear in different cloths Kobene is also worn during the Asantehene’s funeral or when there is a national calamity. yellow. Sometimes the various symbols are used on one fabric and this also has its significance. other types of cloth are used with the same adinkra motives but stamped in indelible colours using the batik method. The Omanhene of Abeadze of Domenase said the cloth means “our eyes are red”. “Kuntunkuni” and “Kobene” cloths. dark – brown and brick red which are the make-up of the “Birisi”. blue etc. The designing is done according to the message the wearer or owner of the cloth intends to convey to the participants of the event. white. Today. 5 . Black for instance among the Asantes evokes an aesthetic response of sadness and hopelessness. of the Kwasiada Adinkra project the festive nature of the day.

forms the basis of adinkra printing.Below is a table displaying in alphabetical order some of the old and new Adinkra and other cultural symbols of the Akan. Aban Palm tree Wealth Self-sufficiency Toughness vitality Nipa nye abe dua na ne ho ahyia ne ho. Symbol/name in Akan Literal meaning Fence Symbolic Proverbial meaning (s) expression Strength and authority. Chief of all the Adinkra designs. significance and proverbial meaning where available. They have been arranged by names in Twi. All trees will wither safe the palm tree. Adinkra King. The human being is not like the palm that is selfsufficient. Nnua nyinaa bewu agya abe. Greatness Royalty Abe dua Adinkrahene 6 . literal translation in English.

This is used only for printing on the Adinkra cloth. wobo a fena kye no safohene The great warrior always has a royal sword of rest even when he retires 7 .Adinkra king stamp. Watery shrub Greatness Royalty Adikrahene Dua Purity and Sanctity Chastity Adwera nsuo. Adwera good fortune Consecration Cleanliness Peace/Calmnes s Peace. Akofena War Horn The sound of Ako-ben is a battle cry. Akoben Call to arms Readiness and preparedness for action or battle. then he will have a peaceful reign. wo ne nkwansuo. does not burn. Dutifulness Gallantry Valour Bravery Akofena kunini ko a. nsu korogyenn a wohuru nso wonhye. Adwo Faithfulness Alertness Agyinduwura Royal/ ceremonial sword. you are the pure crystal clean water that boils but. ne bere so dwo When the king has good counselors. Water of life. Ohene nya ahontenafo pa a.

nso gya. (Parental discipline. Akoko nan The heart. Parental admonition is not intended to harm the child.) Patience Endurance Akoko nan tia ba. Wisdom creativity Ananse ntontan Seriousness Diligence Perseverance Seriousness does not show fiery eyes. Care. Nya Akoma Take heart. The hen treads upon its chicks but it does not intend to kill them.War Horn (another version) Ako-ben The sound of Ako-ben is a battle cry. else you would see my face all red. na ennkum no. Tenderness. Protection. Akoma Extension of the heart. anka mani abere koo. Ani bere 8 . The hen’s feet Call to arms Readiness and preparedness for action or battle. Akoma ntoaso Spider web Love and faithfulness Understanding Agreement or charter Unity. Ani bere a. Vigilance Parenthood.

Divinity of the earth Providence Power/Authorit y Wealth Might Tumi nyina ne asase All power emanates from the earth Asase ye duru sen epo The earth is heavier than the sea Asase ye duru The fern Defiance Endurance Resourcefulnes s Power Abundance Aya Sack of cola nuts Bese saka affluence Togetherness and unity (agriculture and trade bring people together). biribi wo soro. let it get to me. Hope. Reliance on God for inspiration. Nyame. na ma embeka me nsa. God. Bite not one another Bi-nnka-bi (obi nnka obi) Biribi wo soro 9 . Peace Harmony Caution against strife and provocation There is something in the heavens.The earth has weight. there is something in heaven.

10 . ode n’akorana na… It is the hart and not the horns that leads a ram to bully.Help me to help you. Duafe Ram’s horn Concealment Humility & Strength Dwannimmen Wisdom & learning Dwannini ye asisie a. Everlasting love. Interdependenc e Cooperation Helping one another Boa me na me boa wo A board game Intelligence Ingenuity Dame-dame Drum Praise Dono Double drum Unity Concord Dono ntoaso ( Nnonnowa) Wooden comb Strength Feminine virtue.

Fihankra Freedom Freedom Liberty Fawohudie 11 .Fence/fort or castle Representing fenced homes. na n’akoa ne wo You are a slave to the one whose handcuffs you are wearing. Tenderness gentleness Fafanto/Esono namtam House Safety /security in a home. Friendship interdependenc e Advancement progress Ese ne tekrema Strength in unity. Eban Handcuffs Protection security safety fortress Slavery Equality Onii a ne pa da wonsa no. Epa Law & Justice The teeth and the tongue.

won afuru bom. They share one stomach and yet they fight for getting food. Gye Nyame That which cannot be burnt Hye wonnye Imperishability Endless Forgiveness Toughness Hye wonnhye He who burns be not burned 12 . Need for unity when there is the same destiny Funtunmfunafu dua Democracy and oneness irrespective of cultural differences. nso woredidi a na woreko. Jealosy Envy Se die fofoo pe ne se gyinantwi abo bidie. Funtumfunafu denkyem funafu/ Funntunmireku Symbol drawn by Gyawu. (version of the Siamese crocodile) Siamese twin crocodiles joined at the stomach. who was a chief of Bantama Bravery Valour Fearlessness Leadership Omnipotence and immortality of God Gyawu atiko Except God. Funtumfunafu denkyemfunafu. The Fofoo plant’s wish is that the gyinantwi seeds should turn black.Fofoo plant ( a yellowflowered plant) Fofoo The tree/altar of the funtunfunafu .

Excellence Superior quality Hwemudua Remember me. Law and order Krado – mmra krado 13 . One head does not make up council Kontire ne Akwamu Seal of law and order Authority of the court. Democracy. Loyalty Faithfulness Kae me Good bed Good marriage. Love and faithfulness Kete pa Rays Cosmos omnipresence Kojo baiden State elders Reliance.

Krapa (Musuyidie) The Bad Warning against hypocrisy Kramo bone amma yennhu kramo pa We cannot tell the good from the bad because of pretenceand hypocrisy Do not boast. Do not be filled with pride.Sanctity. Sanctity Purity. Need for humility and service Modesty Kramo bone Kuntinkantan Hair of the hero Kwatakye Kwatakye. Pure in heart. Krapa te se okra okyiri fi Sanctity. Commitment Me ware wo Wind house. abhors filth.atiko Valour Bravery leadership Mako I shall marry you. like cats. House built to stand windy and treacherous Fortitude 14 .

Unity Unity Togetherness Mmomudwan Seal of law and order. Mmra krado That which removes ill luck or evil./law and order Nea onnim no sua a ohu 15 .Mframadan conditions. Mmusuyidee Reconciliatio n knot Reconciliation Peacemaking Mpatapo Five tufts of hair ( a traditional hair style ) Mpuannum nkotimsofo puua He who does not know can know from Learning. Skillfulness Priestly office Loyalty Adroitness knowledge Good fortune Sanctity Spiritual strength The Court’s authority. Knowledge comes by learning.

twists and turns. Leadership Nea ope se obedi hene Crossing. The great Supremacy okra Superiority Nhwimu /Nkyimu Nkuma kese Zigzag/ twisting Playing many roles. Justice Nea ope se nkrofoo ye ma wo no. He who wants to be king.Do to others the things you want them to do to for you. ye saa ara ma won Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. (Dynamism) Initiative Toughness Adaptability Resoluteness Obra kwan ye nkyinkyimiie Life’s path is full of ups and downs. ye saa ara ma won. Nkyinkyim 16 . Nea ope se nkrofoo ye ma wo no. Skill The divisions Precision done onto the plain cloth before the stamping is done.

Knowledge Wisdom Nyansa bun mu ne mate masie Deep wisdom comes out of listening and keeping what is heard.Mate masie 17 . Ntesie . Nea onim nssa na oto n’ago The one who knows the nssa blanket is willing to buy it even when it is old. Excellence Authenticity Genuineness Nsoromma Type of hand wovencloth/ Blanket Nssa I have heard and kept it.Chain links Human relations Unity Nkonsonkonson Hair of the Queen’s servant Loyalty Service Nkontim Double drum Valour Strength Nnonnowa (Donno ntoasoa) Wealth Abundance Nserewa The Star Child of God/child of the heavens Affluence Reflection of God faith in God Guardianshi p.

Nyame nti God’s altar in the sky. therefore I shall not die. Prudence Odenkyem da nsuo mu. nso onnhome nsuo. a place of worship. exist Faith in God. ohome mframa The crocodile lives in water but does breathe air and not water. I will not eat leaves to survive. Nyame nti mi nnwe wura By god’s grace. Since god God’s grace. Nyame nnwu na me wu Wisdom knot Wisdom Ingenuity Patience Nyansapo The crocodile. 18 . For God’s sake By God’s grace God never Life after death dies. Odenkyem.Be patient Patience calmness Nya abotere Altar of God/tree of God Nyame dua God’s presence/ protection.

Defender and protector of the king. The king’s stool Power of Love Faithfulness State Chieftaincy Ohene adwa King Wisdom Ohene king’s eye Beauty Vigilance Ohene aniwa The king’s gun. 19 . Greatness Ohene tuo Eagle’s talons.Love does not lose its way home. Odo nyera fie kwan Blessing in loving. Strength and unity. Okodee mmowere A style of Shavings on the heads of some traditional court attendants.

20 .Good farmer Hardwork Entrepreneurshi p Industry productivity Okuafoo pa ne obi a oye nsiyefoo. The greatness of the sun. The good and industrious farmer says: No matter how big your farm is you tend it all. Patience and understanding Osram mmfiti preko nntwareman. Osram /Osrane The moon and the star. Love Faithfulness Osram ne Nsoroma Owia kokroko Fondness. God has a reason for keeping the sun at a distance. Onyakopon aniwa hu asumu asem biara God’s eye seees al secrets Okuafo Pa God’s eye Omnipresence of God Onyakopon aniwa May God be with us God’s presence and protection Onyakopon ne yen ntena The builder Creativity Osidan The moon. woye ne nyinaa. It takes the moon some time to go round the earth. ono na ose : w’afuo so a. .

. Fate War Owu atwedee obaako nforo. Pempamsie Return and get it. Performing the impossible.Snake climbing the palm tree. 21 . All men shall climb the ladder of death Owuo atwedee Striking of fire. Better late than never Se wo were fin a wo sankofa a yennkyi. Death. Sankofa You can always correct your mistakes. Pempamsie se. Mortal nature of man. Excellence/valo ur Owo foro adobe Ladder of death. Wisdom Using past experiences to build the future. bebebre ahooden ne koroye. the ultimate fate of man. Pa gya Readiness Readiness/Prep aredness Strength and unity. Learning from the past. That which will not overcome It is not a taboo to return to fetch something you forgot earlier on.

Sankofa dua Knife used in executions.Return and get it. Wisdom Using past experiences to build the future. Change your life Justice Sepow Transformation A new beginning Sesa woruban 22 . This is plunged through the throat of the victim’s cheeks to prevent him from invoking a curse on the King. You can always correct your mistakes. Sankofa (alternate version) It is not a taboo to return to fetch something you forgot earlier on. Better late than never Se wo were fin a wo sankofa a yennkyi. Learning from the past.

when held too tightly it might break. if it is held too loosely. efiri wo nsa bo famu ma epae Power is as fragile as an egg. it might fall and break. Fragility of democracy. Tumi te se kosua Restraint Tumi te se kosua. Tuo ne Akofena Gun and Power State sword Responsibility Authority Legitimacy. na se woanso mu yie nso a.The Soul The Akans believe that the soul of the chief reside in a younger courtier Paddle Spirituality Purity Sunsum Everlasting Courage hard work Tabon The enemy shall suffer. Military prowess 23 . woso mu den a. epae. National security & protection. Jealousy Tamfo bebre Power is like an egg Delicacy of political power.

Wuforo dua pa a If you have your hands in the dish Wo nsa da mu a Democracy Pluralism 24 .Seed of the wawa tree. When you climb a good tree. Wawa is a hardwood used in carving. Skillfulness Wawa aba Support Cooperation Encouragement Wuforo dua pa a na ye pia wo He who climbs a good tree is encouraged/supported.

). TRADITIONAL WISDOM IN AFRICAN PROVERBS. Adinkra. K. http://www. Omanye House.php Asante Adinkra Cloth. Massimo Adinkra Symbols: A Philosophical writing System.ghana. A. Publishing Trends Ltd. http://www. G. West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols and meanings. Adinkra Glover. & 1915 Proverbs from 41 African Countries. Accra 2004.library.2003/2004. F.ghanatourism. Adinka. Strenna Per Gli Amici.cornell.marshall. http://www. http://www. Cornell University. M. Akan Adinkra cloths. Ghana.html 25 . Adinkra Index. Adinkra Symbols of West Africa. Adire African Textiles. http://www. 1992. (Prof. Artiste Alliance Gallery. Akan Cultural Symbols Project. A. & Rowe R. K.weltempered. Arthur Kojo.. Adinkra Symbols. Italy . Accra. 1998-2001.References Facts and e2.

Tetteh NCC 26 . Page 32. http://www. 22 April 2006.Adinkra symbols. The Mirror.htm Adinkra at a. Compiled by: Valentina A.about.altreligion.

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